19 ways to build up psychological resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic
The new normal of COVID-19 is now setting in for most people. Undoubtedly, this is an unprecedented crisis. We are now providing online therapy sessions, and within the last couple of weeks, we have gained valuable insight into what families and individuals are going through. While we are all experiencing the same event, its effect varies on each individual. For some, this is a minor inconvenience and has offered them a chance to slow down. For others, life has never been busier or more stressful. In other cases still, the stakes couldn’t be higher. This is the hardest period they have ever gone through. No matter how the COVID-19 emergency has impacted you, we hope these tips can help you get through, one day at a time.
1. Organize The Day
Try to structure your day so you have a daily “inhale” and an “exhale”. A morning routine and structured meal times help us to psychologically create natural ‘work’ periods and ‘rest’ periods. This is especially true for those with pre-existing mood disorders. A regular schedule will help keep you anchored during this unpredictable period.
2. Regulating Sleep
If you are having trouble regulating sleep or experiencing insomnia, start by tackling your wake up time. Waking up at a consistently reasonable time in the morning, between 7-8 am, will allow you to create a natural ‘sleep pressure’. This will get you sleepy at a decent time, between 10-11 pm.
Do not get concerned by wakefulness in the night, or waking up earlier than normal. Interrupted sleep is an understandable result of anxiety, given the current circumstances. Remind yourself that you will make it up eventually and can take advantage of short daytime naps, no longer than 30 minutes, to get you through.
Avoid electronics in the middle of the night as the blue screen light interferes with the natural circadian rhythm that controls sleep and wake cycles. Instead, turn on a night light and read a book until you start feeling sleepy.
Most important of all, encourage yourself with positive self-talk. Do not wake up saying “I barely slept”, but use encouraging language like “I am glad I got to lie down and get some rest, I’ll make it easier on myself today and try to get to bed early tonight”.
3. Personal Care
Take care of your physical self by showering every day and dressing in clean comfortable clothes. Take the time to groom yourself, even if you’re living alone as it makes a difference to your overall mental health. If you feel like it, put on some lipstick or earrings, even if it is just for yourself.
4. Sunlight Exposure
Make sure to include time to get outside and experience sunlight as part of your daily routine. Getting up when the day is starting provides your body with the optimum amount of daylight to regulate your circadian rhythms. This will also allow you to sleep better at night.
Stepping out in your yard, on a balcony, or a social distancing walk will do the job. Don’t let the cool weather discourage you. Bundle up, and get out. Feeling the sunlight on your face will benefit you greatly. Having performed full-body workouts bundled up in 2-degree weather on my back deck, I can attest to movement warming you up in no time! You will feel so much better coming indoors after that!
5. Move Your Body
Make time to move each day. While this is good advice for everyday living, it is more important than ever right now, for keeping anxiety at bay. Cardiovascular exercise improves your mood and relieves anxiety. Simple weight resistance strength exercises improve stamina, immune functioning, and metabolism, among other things.
Youtube is a great source for exercise videos and you can also download apps to monitor your progress. Consider a walk or a jog when the streets are less busy, mornings, or evenings. Consider yourself in a “fight and flight” state due to the pandemic: exercise can help you release this energy in a positive and soothing way.
6.Nourishing Your Body
Try to enjoy fruits and vegetables every day. Experiment with cooking new recipes. Perhaps schedule different cultural cooking events. A curry night, an Italian night, a Greek Feast make for events to look forward to, and help you enjoy nourishing, delicious foods. Add some playlists into the mix. It’s fun to pretend you’re on vacation for a minute.
7. Extra Pampering
Lavish yourself with extra care right now. Imagine being your own house guest and give yourself the same treats you would to someone you love. Add touches of luxury to your self-care routine. Wash your bedding and spritz them with lavender oil. Run a bath with scented products you received for Christmas, set out fluffy towels, and light a candle. Clean your house and set up the coffee for the morning so you feel ready for the day. Would Saturday evening feel special in freshly laundered cozy pyjamas and a good book? Sunday afternoon be made special with a nice cup of tea after a walk in the cold? What feels good to you? Explore your senses to experience richness in your surroundings.
8. Family Time
Enjoy the extra time with your kids. Before you know it, life will return to the hustle and bustle of school schedules, packed lunches, homework and practices. I recognize how exhausting and stressful this period is for parents. Changing the paradigm can make things easier. Consider it a blessing to have this concentrated time with your kids. Plan family movie afternoons, or baking days. Watch them draw and play. Allow yourself a moment of wonder in the chaos of kids. See them as the unique beings that they are, that you will shortly be sending back out into the world.
9. The Emotional Roller Coaster
Practice compassion for yourself and those around you when it comes to mood fluctuations. Everything is uncertain right now, routines have changed, and there is nowhere to go on vacation to “get away”. While making space for your own ups and downs, try to see your family members and partner on roller coasters too. It is okay to feel multiple emotions at once. Allow yourself to feel great gratitude for what you have alongside sadness for the world around us; You can love for your kids deeply, while also long for a break.
Practicing Emotional Mindfulness allows you to explore your feelings, non-judgmentally. Take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and put your feelings into words. (i.e. “I am very irritable today, and I think it’s because I am feeling so anxious about tomorrow’s call with my boss”).
Research shows that simply “naming” our feelings helps to tame the stress response in the body. Emotions are simply information. If we ignore them, we cannot make informed decisions for ourselves. Emotional mindfulness helps you turn the “reaction” into a“response”. Imagine if you ignored hunger or thirst? You would die! Similarly, our other feelings aren’t “good” or “bad”. They convey important information about our needs at any given moment.
11. Kids & Homework
Take the pressure off the kids with their school work. Right now, focus on creating a warm and comforting environment rather than academic success. Kids pick up on our stress and tension very easily from a young age. Studies show that babies as young as three months have different brain development based on their mother’s depressive tendencies.
You do not need to hide your feelings from them. Just try to discuss the situation in an age-appropriate way, with a hopeful and helpful view. You can focus on the wonderful helpers, the brave doctors and nurses, delivery people, and grocery workers. You can also discuss how safe you are, together at home. Give them opportunities to ask questions. And don’t overlook the importance of physical affection. Hugs, reading together closely and playing all go a long way to support their emotional health and yours, too, at this time. Touch regulates the nervous system and is vital to our survival. Soak up the snuggles while you can!
Remember you are living through a time of unprecedented uncertainty and crisis. It is normal to not be as productive and motivated as usual. It is completely acceptable to be distracted and less focused on work. Be kind, accepting, and encouraging towards yourself and your family members.
Your “processing power” may be severely taxed by the nature of this crisis. Talk to yourself as you would a friend and avoid self-criticism. A simple way to physically self soothe and offer compassion is to place a hand on the heart centre and breathe in deeply, exhaling slowly. The breathing combined with the gentle pressure on your chest will calm the nervous system and release oxytocin, the bonding hormone, helping you have more loving feelings towards yourself.
13. Media & News
While this one may be hard to do, limiting your consumption of media will go a long way in reducing stress. The news is often negatively skewed and the ticker tape updates can become triggering. Checking-in once or twice a day will help you stay informed without becoming inundated and overwhelmed. Set a firm time limit in the evenings, i.e. nothing after 7 pm. Then try to focus on other tasks. Also, watch how you talk about current affairs with younger children because they will absorb everything.
14. Acknowledging Grief
What many of us are experiencing is grief. We have lost our normal routines, and for many of us, our sources of income. Some of us are dealing with painful disappointments of cancelling college graduations, weddings and much-anticipated vacations. Some families are dealing with health problems, not being able to visit ill and quarantined family members. And then there are those who are losing loved ones to the virus. Some aspects of their lives will never be the same.
It may feel like we will no longer enjoy a simple handshake or hug again without thinking twice. We are all dealing with a collective psychological loss of a safe and secure world.
It is important to acknowledge these personal losses because they matter. Allow yourself to experience sadness, rage, feeling cheated, or helplessness. Writing about them can help some individuals as a form of self-therapy. It helps you to “arrive” at your feelings so you can “leave them”.
15. Find Gratitude
While working through the pain, practice gratitude. Writing down 5 things you feel grateful for every morning is a wonderful way to keep your radar on for the positive things in life. Everybody has something they can feel fortunate about, whether it is still having a job, a home to live in and food in the fridge. Too often we take small things for granted such as clean running water, and a warm bed. This crisis offers us an opportunity to practice gratitude by taking stock of these comforts and security.
15. Organizing Your Space
Take time to organize and enjoy your space. See your home, or room as a sanctuary. A place of comfort and ease, where you are safe to “weather the storm”. Try to de-clutter, reorganize, and clean. Take time to water your plants, play pleasant music, light a candle, and absorb the security of your living space.
Now, more than ever, it is time to inject joy and laughter in your life. Laughter is allowed, and healthy for your immune system and heart. Have a dance party with family members while you wash the dishes. Watch comedy videos. Organize a Zoom talent show for your kids, or with your grown-up friends. Play board games while blasting your favourite high school playlist. These are the memories you’ll cherish once the crisis is over. There are still many reasons to smile every day.
Even if you are living alone, see yourself as belonging to a rich interconnected network of people who are available to support you. These include friends, family, workmates and others. Reach out to make these connections daily, especially if you find yourself out of a job and without workmates. Use video calls instead of telephone.
If you are presently seeing a therapist, you can still continue the connection online. They can help you find ways to get through this time with less stress, and feelings of isolation. If you’ve never tried therapy before, now might be a great time to reach out for support. We offer online sessions and your initial consultation is free for a discussion about how we can help you.
18. Pick A Mantra
Choose an encouraging mantra to help you from running off mentally into the unpredictability of the future. When things seem uncertain we naturally start problem-solving and thinking about what will happen next. No one knows when the pandemic will be over, or when things will return to “normal”. Repeating the mantra “One day at a time” when you get anxious, helps. And you can change it to, “one hour at a time”, or ”one minute at a time”, as you need it.
All you can control is the present. Picking a mantra to help ground you in the present moment will help take the pressure off because practically, it might be impossible for you to “figure it all out” at the moment.
19. New Beginnings
Researchers identify the final stage of grief as the most important. It’s when we come out at the other end with self-discovery and new beginnings. Human beings throughout history have had to grapple with the reality that we do not have as much control over the world as we believe. This pandemic is a stark reminder of unpredictable change.
Writer, George Saunders, said in a recent essay “we live on the back of a tiger”. Once in while that tiger wakes up and reminds us of how small we really are.
Finding personal meaning in this immense change will be important for all of us when we emerge. Maybe this is a defining moment where you learned how to enjoy your own company, or get over your shyness and connect with your neighbours (over the garden fence). Perhaps this will be when you learned to cook for your family or bond with your kids.
For many of us, this will be the story of how we got through a really tough time, overcame financial struggle, a business closure, or a health crisis. It’ll certainly be an event that will remind us to never take “normal” for granted again, and learn we are more resilient than we ever gave ourselves credit for.
About The Author
Laura Devlin is a Registered Psychological Associate with over 10 years of experience, and a managing director at Beaches Therapy Group. We have helped numerous clients successfully overcome mental health challenges. Contact us to discover how our therapy sessions are a worthwhile investment towards happy and healthy relationships.